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  • Kirk Kirkland

Pierce County Park Impact Fees increase debunked

The following article written by ForeverGreen Board member Kirk Kirkland. Kirkland represented the trail community and ForeverGreen Trails Board as an appointed member of the Pierce County Impact fee working group. Kirkland provides some insights into the impact fee discussion.

The Tacoma News Tribune has provided coverage (links attached)

Expanded impact fees will help build out regional trails in Pierce County

1. Increase in park impact fee raises $56 million — $21.8 million which will help build out the regional trail network

We support the fee of $2,552 which raises about $56 million for new parks of which 38% ($21.8 million) would be spent on trails.

2. Parks and trails are crowded and need funds for a 15% increase in population

We support the current level of service for parks. The fee does not change the fact that our parks and trails are crowded, it only lets us increase services and facilities to accommodate 15% of growth that will come into the future. State law provides for builders to pay an impact fee to pay for the costs per homes of more people using parks.

3. Some council members believe that County Parks have not kept up with increase in population

This is not true. County Park’s have being adequately maintained. The county has not built parks for several years and has used capital funds for maintenance and staffing. An increase in impact fees would provide the money to build parks for the increase in population.

4. South Hill/ Spanaway/ Frederickson need better parks

The Communities of Pierce need upgraded community and neighborhood parks to maintain the level of services required under Growth Management Act. In the last 20 years this area has grown into a city of 350,000 people. These communities have become a city the size of Tacoma, Universtity Place, Lakewood.

Schools, roads and sewers are on-line for a raise this year. This increase for parks is not the only one builders must agree to this summer. But if the county is going to build a city in this area, it must pay for these necessary services.

5. An increase in fees is needed to maintain park growth at the level of service standard adopted already

The county needs to increase funds to maintain the level of services for roads, parks and sewers to build meet standards of cities adjacent to South Hill and Spanaway/ Frederickson. Otherwise continued growth will create an area of poverty and substandard housing without basic city services.

Myth #1: The proposed impact fee is too high and will stymie growth

The calculated fee of $2,552 would raise about $56 million for new parks of which 38% ($22.8 million) would be spent on trails, 18% ( $18 million on new parks in central Pierce County, and 32% ($19.2 million ) on existing parks and trails, of this $1.2 million on partnerships with PenMet Parks for regional facilities.

Builders tell us that Bonney Lake impact fee of $2,974 is too high and builders are no longer filing for city building permits. The proposed fee is less then the fee charged in Edgewood, ($2940), but higher then Puyallup ($2300), Fife ($1700) Gig Harbor ($1500) and Sumner ($414) Pierce County existing fee is $385.00. Housing growth continues in Bonney Lake despite claims that the fee has stalled construction- in fact, Bonney Lake is growing too fast, according to PSRC (“Where feasible, the city should adopt strategies intended to limit or slow future development.” -PSRC conditional comprehensive plan conditional approval letter, December 31, 2015, PSRC).

The national average for impact fees is $2,774; in Snohomish County it is $2,889.

There are not enough vacant lots in Puyallup, Fife or Gig Harbor to meet the total demand for new houses in the county. Same problem in Lakewood, UP and Tacoma. These cities just don’t have vacant lots even though they have a lower impact fee.

In 2007, total capital fees available to build parks were $13 million annually. Impact fees contributed 30% ($3.9 million) of the total Real estate sates 30% of total ( $3.9 million) and sales tax 40% of total (or $5.2 million).

By 2015 total capital fees to build parks were down to total of $5.4 million (from $13 million) Impact fees dropped to 11% (0.7 million) Real estate sales 25% ($1.3 million), Builders were paying the least amount for growth and sales tax was sustaining the parks with 63% of the total fees or just $3.,4 million a year, (down from $5.2 million).

Since 1994, Pierce County has been the bedroom community for jobs in Olympia and Seattle. Today 38% of commuters leave our county for jobs elsewhere. And with low impact fees made home prices cheaper here then across the county line.

The key to understanding the pressure on county builders is that their profits are down to 9% per home and the impact fee or sewers, roads, schools and parks will further erode their profits and make the Pierce County home price less attractive. It creates a competitive environment, but new home owners have a right to enjoy good services when they move in. They expect toilets to flush and roads to be adequate to commute.

Myth #2: The increased fee won’t help the County achieve consistency with the adopted level of service for parks.

County Park Department’s calculation for impact fee maintains the current level of service. This maintains an under funded park system with crowded parks and trails which has not kept pace with growth since 1994. The low impact fee has subsidized a building boom in which our schools and parks are substandard in the Urban Growth Area which now contains 365,000 people — more people then live in Tacoma, UP, Lakewood combined.

The builders were not able to dispute that our parks were under funded. The impact fee would not improve the park system. It would only maintain the level of service for parks and have facilties for an additional 200,000 people who will buy a home here .

By 2030 the population of the county will be over one million people with a growth of 15%. Do we want to have a poorer park system with more crowded trails, or will the builders pay a fair share as required by state law?

A higher impact fee would slow housing growth but it would also allow our park system and other infrastructure to catch up with demand. Bethel School District has missed many school levies trying to build classrooms to meet demand. Slower growth would also allow schools and roads to catch up with demand.

Myth #3: County Park’s aren’t being maintained, why build more?

The conservative members of the County Council and the builders believe that the county is not maintaining the current park system and that tax collections are not adequate to build additional parks.

This is a myth used by a “no new taxes” majority who have deliberately reduced the percentage share of the park department budget since 2007, while increasing other county departments over the same period.

In 2006 the Park’s share of county budget was 2.39%. During the recession the park department shifted money form capital funds for building parks (Sales tax, and Real Estate Tax (REET) to continue to maintain parks to cover the decline in its share of county budget.

The park budget proportion was as low as 2.19% and didn’t recover for seven years, until 2014, when it returned to 2.40%. In the future it will rise to 2.54% of projected revenues. This increase will raise between $1.7 million and $3.0 million a year to cover maintenance of new parks built with impact fees.

Yes, we can afford to build parks and this projected park funding can maintain the parks we build.

Projected revenues for 2016- 2030 shows the capital funds for parks can go back to building new parks and trails with total revenue in that period of between $25 to $45 million total. The impact fee if approved would raise $56 million over the same 14 year period.

Yes, parks have been under funded. But maintenance has continued during the recession as we have not built many new parks and trails. Instead the park department shifted capital funds to cover the costs. But as a results for 7 years the park department has not kept up with the housing growth in the county.

Now that the county budget is whole again and it is likely that impact fees will be available to building parks, the park department will have public hearings around the county showing off plans for parks to be built.

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